Arjo Atayde is gearing up for a return to filming following his recovery from COVID-19g up on his recent bout with the coronavirus, he believes vaccines saved him from getting so much worse.

“Kaka-recover lang din. Merong hirap ng hinga kahit papaano, konting paghihina but much, much, much better,” the 30-year-old Kapamilya actor told The STAR when asked how he was doing two weeks since he got out of the hospital and now back home recovering.

He said being an asthmatic, the whole experience became one of the scariest times of his life. “I am very, very scared because obviously pneumonia and I had severe back pain, you cannot imagine, it was so painful,” he shared.

“For some weird reason, biglang sakit ng likod mo, mahapdi, and the doctor told me that it was already building pneumonia. It wasn’t helping. Nag-fi-freak out na ako, oh my god, this is not even a joke anymore. That was one of the scariest times of my life. I’ve never been this scared.”

A realization during his health ordeal is that it’s also a mental game for anyone fighting with the virus.

“Any added stress won’t help. Anyone who has COVID, it’s a mental game talaga. I mean we’re all familiar, but it hits people differently, di ba? Iba’t-ibang organs ang possible na matamaan. Iba-iba din yung symptoms, there’s moderate, mild and severe COVID patients, and I was somewhere between mild and (moderate?) but I had all symptoms, even the back pains na hindi mo alam saan nanggagaling. Pati paghinga, inhaling specifically, mahirap.”

Vaccine awareness

According to Arjo, his parents’ own experience with COVID last year helped him deal better with the sickness.

“My parents had it and they had nothing good to say, even the hospital experience, gawa nang mag-isa ka lang, di ba? Nonstop injection, checkups, doctors, oxygen and that’s not normal, so everyone has fear towards this virus so much,” he said.

“Not for anything, muntikan na rin sila madale nung COVID… Meron din kaming iilan na kaibigan that we try to help as much as we can because we’re kind of familiar in a way, especially kami mismo nagkaroon, but not know it all, just to a certain extent that we think could help.”

Arjo recalled that early this year, he was asked to do a video about vaccine awareness and that it was “hard to explain to people because I never got it. Realistically speaking, you’d believe someone who got it. I didn’t know what to say to people, convincing them, until I got it. When I got it, I just thought, I wouldn’t and couldn’t even wish this on anyone, not even my enemy, you know, if I had but I don’t.

“But it’s such an experience. It’s such a mental game, just thinking about your family, iniisip mo kasi with COVID, para kang ticking time bomb. Kelangan maagapan kaagad. You can’t just say ipapabukas ko na ‘to, kailangan ‘pag nalaman mo, you have to do something about it.”

Like getting vaccinated, he said. Spreading awareness about it, he further realized, is one thing that he could do, especially after surviving the virus. “I’m not gonna force people because meron tayong kanya-kanyang opinion but based on experience and what the doctor told me, ‘The vaccine that you had played a very big part in saving you from the COVID worsening in your system,’” he said.

“I don’t want anyone to experience it, it’s so bad… and if the doctor told me that the vaccine played a big part then I believe it because I survived it…. I’m speaking based on experience and facts, so I hope they get the vaccine.”

Meanwhile, Arjo said he has a lot of people to thank for helping him get through that tough time. “People whom I didn’t expect to text me, people from the industry, no need to mention. But I was so surprised by these people who I barely talk to but I just built a good relationship with them, they showed sincerity at my down time. I will treasure that,” he said.

“I would always be thankful to my family, to (girlfriend) Maine (Mendoza) and to everyone else who’s always there. But not only thank (them) but also a reminder to everyone that when someone gets this, it’s the hardest to stay positive, but fight it. There’s hope in everything. Hangga’t may hininga, may pag-asa.”

Resuming work

Arjo and his production company Feelmaking Productions, Inc. are set to resume shooting for the film titled Hey Joe in Baguio City.

“Yes, I’m now about to get back to work. Na-delay lang din ang shooting gawa na rin ng ECQ. But I was ready to go back the moment I got out (laughs) kasi may momentum na kami dun, eh.”

Arjo confirmed an earlier statement by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) that the issue with the local government of Baguio City has been resolved. To recall, his movie, which was filming in the City of Pines for two months, was put on hold after an investigation was ordered into the production over a possible breach of protocols.

“Yes, resolved na and we will be shooting hopefully by October. Of course, depende lang din po sa LGU and the government kung kailan kami possible umakyat, then we will go there to finish our last scenes,” he said.

The film, which is 97-percent done, tackles the relationship between a grandmother (played by veteran actress Nova Villa) and her grandson (Arjo). It’s the first movie produced under Feelmaking Productions, Inc., his newly formed production house with veteran television director Avel Sunpongco, and advertising and marketing communications practitioner Marj So.

“It’s about every Filipino today, in some way. Every character reflects a person in reality, experiencing something. It might be happiness, sadness, anger, it goes with fear. Isa siyang kwentong kelangan ikwento ngayon,” he said.

The story idea originated from a personal experience of Arjo, written and developed further by his Bagman director Shugo Praico and ABS-CBN writer Jerry Gracio.

“Definitely, my goal since Day 1 in creating this story is to get it out there,” he said.

“It took nine years in the making because I wrote the story coming from an experience. I won’t explain why (since) it’s a bit personal, but there was a certain situation where I was there and it was just chaos, chaos. In the middle of chaos, I saw just the silhouette of two people, I won’t even explain further… But for some weird reason, out of sincerity, of love, I built the story instantly. I just kept building it…”


The film was supposed to star the late Eddie Garcia in the grandparent role. Arjo had worked with the screen legend, who died in 2019, on the ABS-CBN series FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano. “I had a conversation right before he left everyone. I was going to meet him supposedly the day after the talk about his nuances, his additions to the script,” said Arjo, who turned emotional, upon remembering the actor.

“Same day, I got the call. Of course, it was the worst news and not for anything — forget about the story — I was this devastated as a friend, as an apo. It died and no one wanted to touch the script anymore.”

One day, he chanced upon the fantasy-comedy movie Miss Granny starring Nova Villa. “The challenge for us, as a team, was how could you present a dramatic film in a very light way? I was trying to get my inspiration back, and no doubt Tita Nova became a choice.”

The movie will pay tribute to Eddie Garcia. Arjo sought the permission of Eddie’s family to use some of his images in the film. “Tito Eddie is still an inspiration and I believe he became the reason behind everything pushing through despite the pandemic.”

As for his “Mamita” Nova, Arjo said, “She’s already so good but she gave so much more each day that we kept on going… The whole Baguio (team), you know… Everyone was on board. You’re rolling on the same page, you’re flipping that page together. It’s all because of everyone and the blessing of Tito Eddie, I believe.”

Arjo is currently busy editing the film. Asked about his other plans after this project, he said he will be doing one with ABS-CBN “very, very soon.” He also hopes for a Season 3 for the iWant and Dreamscape series Bagman, for which he won Best Actor at the third Asian Academy Creative Awards 2020.

He further said, “I would want to be able to do many more roles that are different again. I don’t want to repeat any role as much as possible.

“And to have a family is definitely one of my plans, one of the things that I look forward to, because why else am I working anyways?

“And just to grow as a person, you know, to accept the imbalance of reality, to embrace positivity, and the people I love, to protect them. To, you know, take it day by day, but progress as much as possible and learn in every way.”

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